Gov. Sam Brownback’s policy director on Tuesday urged lawmakers to implement a merit-pay system for K-12 educators but didn’t outline a specific plan during a legislative hearing that attracted opposition to the idea from representatives of three education organizations.
The governor raised the prospect of introducing a statewide compensation program based on classroom performance that goes beyond initiatives approved by local school boards to reflect education level and years of service. Some Kansas districts provide a bump of $1,000 or more for teachers who attain national board certification.
“Attracting and keeping high-quality teachers remains a high priority,” said Brandon Smith, the governor’s policy director. “By structuring teacher compensation to reward high-quality teachers, our schools can do just that.”
He told the House Education Committee the governor hadn’t formulated a strategy for putting in motion a merit approach that was referenced last week in the State of the State speech.
“Our office doesn’t have a specific recommendation,” Smith said.
Private industry in the United States has relied upon merit pay to improve competitiveness among international rivals, he said.
Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park, was among education committee members enthusiastic about the prospect of implementing a structure financially recognizing the most effective teachers.
“I want to attract, retain and reward the best teachers. I want to differentiate pay,” he said.
Representatives of the Kansas Association of School Boards, Kansas-National Education Association and Kansas Families for Education shared with the committee their reservations about any state law on merit pay for public education teachers.
Mark Tallman, associate executive director for advocacy at KASB, said he wasn’t aware of research-based consensus that pay for performance improved overall academic results in the classroom. It is a topic best left to locally elected school boards, he said.
“Our members have indicated current law should and does provide ways for boards to provide performance-based compensation to the teachers, and the state should not attempt to impose such policies on districts,” Tallman said.
K-NEA lobbyist Mark Desetti said state legislatures wading into the incentive pay “fail to understand the essential nature of teaching.”
“Teaching is a collaborative art in which no one teacher is responsible for the success or failure of a student,” he said. “The performance of high school mathematics students has as much to do with the elementary school teachers who developed a foundation for success starting in kindergarten as it does with the high school teacher.”
Desetti said research had established links between the study of music and success in math but merit systems wouldn’t recognize the contribution of a fifth-grade band teacher when evaluating effectiveness of a high school calculus instructor.
Teachers depend on the skills and work of colleagues in moving students to high levels of achievement, he said.
Brian Koon, testifying on behalf of Kansas Families for Education, said a performance-based approach to salary increases could inspire educators to focus on students with the most capacity to learn and to neglect struggling students. Merit pay might weaken collaboration among teachers and undercut mentoring, Koon said.
“This process may become a game of office politics hot potato,” he said. “If the Legislature wishes to create an incentive for teachers to spend more time with each student, merit pay is not the way.”